Author and ambassador of children’s literature Walter Dean Myers died yesterday at age 76 after a brief illness. With an impressive résumé that includes more than 100 books and an astounding career that lasted almost half a century, Myers won acclaim, adulation, and criticism alike for his realistic depictions of the lives, language, and journeys of youth, particularly black youth. Three of his books, Hoops; Fast Sam, Cool Clyde And Stuff; and Fallen Angels were included on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books in public schools.
Myers was the runner-up to receiving the Newbery Medal twice, for his 1989 novel The Scorpion and his 1993 book Somewhere In The Darkness. He was also the 1994 recipient of ALA’s Margaret A. Edwards Award, which recognizes “significant contributions to young adult literature.” Myers was a finalist for the National Book Award in the Young People’s Literature division in 1999 for Monster, in which a 16-year-old aspiring black filmmaker is charged with murder and is awaiting trial. Monster is probably one of Myers’ most rewarded single work, as it has the National Book Award nomination, won the Michael L. Printz Award, and was named a Coretta Scott King Honor book.
Despite being an avid reader with an interest in writing, Myers dropped out of his Harlem high school and joined the Army on his 17th birthday. He published his first book, Where Does The Day Go?, in 1968 and won an award from the Council On Interracial Books For Children. The author remained prolific for the next 46 years, and throughout his career he was an unyielding champion for young adult literature and the belief that the inclusion of more characters of color would foster more young readers of color.
As recently as a few months ago, Myers penned an essay for The New York Times’ Book Review espousing just that, in which he explains, “Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in books?… There is work to be done.”